Government officials from more than 30 countries gathered in Hungary Friday for the opening of Central and Eastern Europe's first conference center powered by renewable energy. The building of the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe is seen as an international example of environmentally friendly design. Stefan Bos reports from the Hungarian town where the Center is based.

Visitors looking at the sunlight-powered complex in front of a sometimes functioning fountain, could be forgiven for comparing it with an international space craft or a fortress of steel.

It's difficult not to notice the 140 solar panels, heat pumps, air-handling units and other complicated equipment that make this roughly $3 million conference center work.

Yet, speaking to curious reporters sitting on environmentally friendly chairs made of cardboard, the building's Italian designer, Frederico Butera, defended his creation at Friday's official opening.

"All the solutions that were proposed by architects were based on the fact that they could solve everything just pumping more oil or more gas in it," he said. "And this becomes a culture, this is a way of designing. Well, this [building] is also a step, a contribution to a different architectural language that will change."

The conference center in Szentendre, an artistic town 20 kilometers north of Budapest, replaces a communist-era building that never won a beauty contest either. The new building aims to have zero annual emissions of carbon dioxide, which has been linked to global warming.

Yet, being dependent on sunlight has a dark side.  Builders admit that at night or peak hours the conference center will need electricity from a regular electricity plant. But the center will compensate for that by supplying electricity back to the grid when it has a power surplus during sunny days.

The building is run by the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe, 'REC', which was proposed by former American President George Bush Sr. and founded by the United States, Hungary and the European Commission in 1990.

The REC has been helping several ex-Communist countries to face environmental challenges brought on by decades of neglect and out dated industries such as coal mining. There was also concern about pollution left behind by withdrawing Soviet troops in the early 1990s.

Officials from more than 30 countries attended the opening of the conference center, which has been mainly financed by Italy, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.